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Brazilians protest in front of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro (ALERJ) on May 27, 2016, against a gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl.


Police have identified four suspects in the gang-rape of a Rio teenager that was widely shared on social media. The attack – and the fact that the men posted video and boasting pictures of themselves with the naked and unconscious victim on social media – is causing growing outrage in Brazil.

Countering the initial public narrative that the girl must have been the victim of one of the drug gangs that control favelas, or slums, in the area where the attack took place, the men identified by police as suspects are "regular guys" – one was until recently a camera operator at a local television station, another is a promising football player for a local team and the son of an evangelical pastor.

The victim, a 16-year-old high school student, took to social media herself on Friday to thank people for their message of support.

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"It's not my uterus that hurts, it's my soul, because there are such cruel people who are not punished," she wrote in Portuguese. "I really thought I'd be judged badly. But I wasn't. We could all go through this one day."

She has changed her profile picture to a symbol used to denounce violence against women, with the words "End Rape Culture."

Last December, the young woman made a lengthy post to Facebook that now seems chillingly prescient. She wrote about how the city of Rio is a mess – listing problems including corruption by police and the vulnerability of the poor. "It's a city where rape is the victim's fault, where women get beaten in silence," she wrote.

Already, the national newspaper O Globo has published an article that reports that the victim attends baile funk dance parties in favelas, has used drugs, has tattoos, was a "problem teenager" who "posts selfies in shorts and piercings" and then "wound up" in a situation where she was sexually assaulted by 33 men.

And someone claiming to speak for the accused rapists has created a Twitter account, garnering considerable attention here, once again using social media to post pictures of the young woman, this time to insist she was a willing participant in a consensual encounter. The Twitter handle translates as "who's so innocent."

It is clear the victim is a vulnerable child living in a marginal situation: At 16, she is the single parent of a three-year-old child of her own.

"Violence against women in Brazil is so normalized that 30 men not only rape: They take pictures, joke around and post on social networks gloating about their crime," said the feminist writer Stephanie Ribeiro. "Before you say we don't have rape culture – think about that. Or before you say my fear of going out on the street is hysteria … This is not a disease, it is not madness: it is the normalization of evil against us women."

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In a leaked police report, the young woman describes leaving her home to go to her boyfriend's after midnight Saturday, in a favela in the west of the city. She says she remembers entering his house and being alone with him. Her next memory is from Sunday morning, when she woke up naked in another house in the same favela with 33 heavily armed men around her. On Tuesday she was alerted to a video of her, naked and unconscious, circulating online, according to the statement. Police say her boyfriend is among the suspects.

Another, Marcelo da Cruz Correia, 18, who shared an image of the unconscious and naked victim on Twitter, gave an interview to the newspaper Extra in which he says he received a picture of the girl on WhatsApp and shared it but did not know the victim had been raped at the time. He said he has received death threats since his connection to the case became public, and that he intends to turn himself in to police.

Others among the accused are reported to have absconded to avoid arrest.

Acting Brazilian President Michel Temer expressed revulsion at the attack. "It's absurd that, in the 21st century, we have to deal with barbaric crimes like this," he said in a statement. He referred to a special section for crimes against women that he set up when he was in charge of security in the state of Sao Paulo and said he would do the same at the national level. "Our government will investigate those responsible and seriously punish those responsible for the rape and the sharing of the criminal act on social networks," he said.

The elected President, Dilma Rousseff, who has been forced out of office for up to 180 days during an impeachment trial on alleged budget crimes, expressed horror at the case and support for the victim. Ms. Rousseff changed her own social media profile image to the symbol of the fight against violence against women.

Rio's public prosecutor's office received more than 800 complaints to a hotline after a tweet with video showing the young woman naked and apparently regaining consciousness was posted by a user named Michel on Wednesday. The men who tweeted it congratulated themselves for "opening a new tunnel for the highspeed train" and one photographed his face next to the girl's brutalized genitalia.

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Rio will host the Olympics in August. While overall rates of violent crime have been falling over the past decade, the past few months have seen a sharp deterioration in public security. The state's budget has collapsed alongside the price of the offshore oil on which it depends, and police have had 20 per cent cut from their budget compared to last year.

At a news conference Friday, Rio police chief Fernando Veloso said investigators will review forensic evidence and try to question the suspects. When asked by reporters whether the girl's life might be in danger for reporting the assault, Mr. Veloso responded: "That would be a subjective answer. Who isn't at risk in Rio de Janeiro?"

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